Day 67 and the feeling when I saw the headline ‘America is burning’ was one of heaviness and despair. The present darkness shrouding America just seems to grow and grow and grow. Digesting today’s news of fresh protests and violent clashes across the country, of buildings set alight and parts of cities burning, of the National Guard deployed and increasing violence towards protesters as anger erupts over the suffocation and murder of George Floyd by a policeman, while his colleagues stood by and watched, a line from Hamlet came to mind, ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ So much of what Shakespeare perceived all that long time ago in the 16th and early 17th centuries about the dark side of human nature, about the politics of corruption and the disastrous consequences of greed, envy, malice and of prejudice remains pertinent today.
This is life in Trump America where the same base and callous emotions are running the country and fuelling suffering everywhere. Trump’s sheer contempt for everyone is shocking to witness. He didn't come out of nowhere however. His brutality is mirrored in the faces of his ghastly cohort. Sometimes when I look at the hard faces of the men that prop him up, the middle-aged and old and self-interested white guys who represent the face of the Republican party, big business, the oil industry, the gun lobby, I shudder.
Yesterday evening I viewed a movie, 'Bombshell', at The Vic theatre in Devonport with friends from over the harbour. It was yet another film about the ways in which men who have been elevated to top positions abuse their power. In this fictionalised film of a true story about the sexist culture existing within Fox News we meet the bloated and overweight Roger Ailes, CEO of the news organisation, played by John Lithgow (with six protheses added to his face) and watch him sexually harassing and degrading his women news anchors. The scenes are repugnant.
What struck me as I viewed the film was that he could have been Trump, or any number of the president's misogynist cronies. We know of Trump's disdain for women. We remember his crass comments to a television host in 2005, a discussion that just happened to be recorded, where he bragged about groping a women who, he said, ‘had big phony tits’ and how he doesn’t even wait, if he’s attracted to beautiful women, he just starts kissing them. ‘When you’re a star, they let you do it… grab them by the pussy.’ In the finale of 'Bombshell' the slob at Fox News is fired, unceremoniously. He’s gone. Watching that scene I experienced a visceral delight rippling through my body and afterwards when asked what I thought of the movie, I said ‘It was satisfying!’ Yes, immensely satisfying because it was a true event and it did happen. The women rose up and revolted and brought him down. This needs to happen again and again and again until all the bastards are brought to account.
I said I wasn’t going to write about Trump because I detest him and don’t want to give him column space — if only the media would shut him down completely, turn him off — but I have to write something because his presidency is a disgrace and America is burning. So much is wrong where do you begin? To see how the Republicans have dismantled much of the good that was achieved under earlier governments, and are now attacking the core principles of democracy and free speech is alarming. I can hardly bear to add up the wrongs committed against humanity in the past four years — the racist politics, his outrageous wall at the border with Mexico where desperate people and children are housed in cages, mothers separated from their little ones and now in the midst of a pandemic there is his gross and inept handling of the crisis — he blames China, he should look at himself and his role in the deaths of more than 100,000 people. Then there is his denial of emergency unemployment assistance to couples where one member of the partnership is a migrant while paying out the oil barons to stop the collapse of their industry. It is shocking to see how he has been dismantling the Obama government’s healthcare reform and to contemplate the devastating consequences now for those dying of coronavirus. Again, over 100,000 dead, many of them black.
Here in New Zealand we are extraordinarily fortunate to have a free healthcare system. In America where it is the waged only who can afford health insurance — and the higher waged at that, not people on subsistence and minimum wages — there is no such safety net. For these people their path through ill-health is lined with human misery. In an earlier entry I wrote about a photojournalism article where a photographer was granted access to the University Hospital in Coventry, England and captured images of the treatment of patients with Covid-19. There dying people were receiving appropriate palliative treatment to ease them through the final stages. For those denied hospital care because they cannot afford it, they must endure the agony of gasping to death.
I’ve covered only a little of what is wrong. There are the actions of Trump and his Republican cabinet on the world stage that are deeply concerning as well: the break with the WHO and the freezing of their funding which will surely deplete the important reach of this world public health organisation; the loss of statesmanship and diplomacy and its replacement with a hectoring, mocking style where insults are directed at key countries is destabilising to world peace...
It is no surprise America is burning. The protests sparked by the death of George Floyd and police killings of black men and women in general are an expression of a greater despair over the inequities in treatment of black people, of migrants, of the first peoples of America and of the poor and disenfranchised. These clashes are an indication of people's desperation in the face of the endless damage perpetrated by a wrong-minded government. They relate to everything that has declined and gone so badly awry under Trump.
This was and is a country of great innovation and artistic brilliance, a place of serious and groundbreaking academic scholarship and of scientific advancement, it is the place where the European founded practice of psychotherapy really took root and entered the lexicon generally, it is the home of a contemporary form of Buddhism, founded in the East, with its practice of mindfulness and paying attention to this moment now reaching out across the world, it is the home of the Moosewood cookbook and the contemporary vegetarian food and health movements, of so many things that have enriched us culturally — the brilliance of many music genres across decades, the architecture first introduced by European emigres fleeing Nazi Germany, it is the home of mid-century design, the influences go on and on. For all American people who seek the light and the good the current miasma must represent a very great test to the spirit.